These three novels are frequently referred to as Juan Goytisolo’s Exile Trilogy, because of their thematic unity and the numerous references within the text of each novel to the fictional reality of the others. The novels portray three stages in Alvaro Mendiola’s search for his “marks of identity”—the significant characteristics of his existence, identified in Juan the Landless as “race, profession, class, family, homeland.”
Marks of Identity begins in 1963, as Alvaro returns to Barcelona from his exile in France to search for an understanding of his experience at the university in the 1950’s. Renewing his friendship with his fellow students and with Dolores, his former lover, Alvaro examines the relics of his past—family photograph albums, police reports on his underground political activities, places that he frequented during his student days. As he engages in lengthy conversations with his friends, Alvaro remembers and narrates episodes from his youth in Barcelona. At every point, the memories and the present experiences are narrated against the background of the repressive Spanish society of 1963. In the last scene of the novel, as Alvaro prepares to return to his exile in France, he goes to the Castle of Montjuich to look out over the city in which he spent his youth. In the presence of the tourists and the surveillance of the police, he experiences an overwhelming feeling of despair and disillusionment.
Count Julian is the narrative of a typical day in the life of Alvaro Mendiola, who now lives in exile in Tangiers. He gets up in the morning and looks out his window across the straits at his homeland. He sweeps up the dead bugs in his kitchen, takes them to the library, and crushes them between the pages of the volumes of Spanish literary masterpieces, obliterating the sacred words of his cultural heritage. Alvaro then spends the day first in the company of Tariq, the Arab, who takes him to an opium den, and then with the Great Figurehead, Alvaro Peranzules, alias Seneca. The narrator relates a series of hallucinatory scenes which detail a fantasized destruction of traditional Western morals. A tourist, whom the narrator calls the D.A.R. lady, is bitten by a snake charmer’s serpent. As she lies writhing on the ground, bloated by the poison, the Arabs who witness the scene pull up her dress and urinate on her body. The narrator recalls his experience as a child in the biology laboratory with insects that inject poison into one another, then imagines contaminating the blood supply of Spain by donating his own blood after suffering an attack by a rabid dog.
The Great Figurehead extols the virtues of the asceticism of his namesake, the Stoic philosopher Seneca, then takes Alvaro to meet his mother, the devout Queen Isabel la Catolica. Isabel takes Alvaro aside and performs a lewd striptease, while the Great Figurehead, attacked by flying insects after delivering a speech on the beauties of the Spanish literary tradition, dies trying, in vain, to pronounce an obscene word. His funeral cortege is led by a young man with a cross, who is transformed into Julian, the traitor, as the procession becomes an unbridled orgy from which the Hispanic populace flees in terror, pursued by the licentious African invaders.
The Great Figurehead is transformed into a bullfighter, who is run through by the horns of Tariq, the Arab bull, and then into a child, Little Red Riding Hood. His grandmother, Julian, turns him over to Tariq, who rapes him with his enormous serpent. The narrative of Count Julian ends at sunset, once again in the room of the narrator Alvaro Mendiola, who looks across the straits at his mother country and vows that tomorrow the invasion will begin again.
The text of Juan the Landless begins, still in Morocco, with an examination of photographs that evoke the origin of the narrator, Alvaro Mendiola, a white child born of the sexual union between a black slave woman and Chango, the enormous gorilla-god of the slaves of...
(The entire section is 1,067 words.)